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Gas Piped Into Homes Incorporates Benzene and Other Dangerous Chemicals, Study Finds


The natural gas delivered to homes incorporates low concentrations of several chemicals linked to cancer, a latest study found. Researchers also found inconsistent levels of odorants — substances that give natural gas its characteristic “rotten egg” smell — which could increase the chance of small leaks going undetected.

The study, which was published within the journal Environmental Science & Technology, adds to a growing body of research that links the delivery and use of natural gas to detrimental consequences for public health and the climate.

Most prior research has documented the pollutants present where oil and gas extraction takes place, but there are “fewer studies as you’re employed your way down the provision chain,” said Drew Michanowicz, the lead writer of the study, “where we actually use it, in our homes.”

Over 16 months, researchers led by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health collected 234 samples of unburned natural gas from 69 homes within the Boston metropolitan area that received natural gas from three suppliers. They found 21 “air toxics” — an Environmental Protection Agency classification of hazardous pollutants known or suspected to cause cancer, birth defects or hostile environmental effects — including benzene, which was detected in 95 percent of the samples.

Short-term exposure to high levels of benzene specifically may lead to drowsiness, dizziness, headaches and irritation of the eyes and skin, in response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Longer-term exposure can increase the chance of blood disorders and certain cancers like leukemia.

The highly flammable chemical is colorless or light yellow, and is present in products constructed from coal and oil including plastics, resins and nylon fibers, and likewise some sorts of rubbers, dyes and pesticides. Additionally it is usually present in vehicle exhaust, tobacco smoke and gasoline.

The concentrations of benzene that the researchers present in the natural gas samples were “much lower in comparison with the quantity in gasoline,” Dr. Michanowicz said on Friday during a conference call with reporters. Even so, he said, the finding is concerning since “natural gas is used so widely in society and in our indoor spaces.”

Americans spend greater than 90 percent of their time indoors, in response to the E.P.A., where concentrations of some pollutants can range from two to 5 times as high as outdoor concentrations.

Benzene is a carcinogen, and exposure over time adds up, leading some experts to suggest that there isn’t any secure level of exposure.

The researchers said that the goal of their study was to discover the presence and concentration of certain hazards, and that more research is required to grasp the health risks.

“The biggest sources of benzene in most individuals’s lives are gasoline from cars and smoking,” said Rob Jackson, an earth scientist at Stanford University who didn’t work on the study. “However, any unnecessary benzene in your private home is just an excessive amount of.”

The unburned natural gas also contained inconsistent levels of odorants, or substances that give off a perceptible smell, the researchers said. Methane, the predominant component of natural gas, is odorless, so odorants are routinely added to assist detect leaks.

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“If there’s less odorant within the natural gas stream, there may be a better potential for larger leaks to exist with out a smell to them,” Dr. Michanowicz said within the Friday call.

When released into the atmosphere unburned, methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. It will probably warm the planet greater than 80 times as much as the identical amount of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Oil and gas corporations have come under fire lately for occasionally large-scale, invisible releases of methane.

Across the country, a growing variety of cities try to phase out natural-gas hookups to homes and businesses in favor of electrical alternatives, mostly citing the emissions impact of constant to burn fossil fuels.

The brand new research suggests that natural gas leaks aren’t just releasing methane, but in addition air toxics that could possibly be detrimental to public health, said Curtis Nordgaard, a pediatrician and study co-author. “We’d need to rethink those leaks as not only a climate issue, but a health issue,” he said.

Dr. Nordgaard is a senior scientist at PSE Healthy Energy, a nonprofit research institute focused on the general public health and climate effects of energy production, as is Dr. Michanowicz.

With this study, the researchers said they hoped to fill a spot in the supply and transparency of gas composition data. Pipeline operators and gas suppliers in america generally test the composition of gas, consistent with recommendations from the North American Energy Standards Board, an industry organization that sets standards for the natural gas and electricity marketplace.

Nevertheless, the gas composition tests often measure only the 16 most abundant constituents of natural gas. That list doesn’t include a number of the components the researchers identified, like benzene.

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